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Wednesday, December 16, 2009
NewsState pols' aides leading double lives: 49 key staffers face conflict over positions

State pols' aides leading double lives: 49 key staffers face conflict over positions

Originally Published:Sunday, December 13th 2009, 11:39 PM
Updated: Monday, December 14th 2009, 1:58 PM

Assemblyman Martin Golden (top left), Sen. Hiram Monserrate (top right), Sen. Andrew Lanza (bottom left) and Sen. Jeffrey Klein (bottom right) are on the list of 49.
Assemblyman Martin Golden (top left), Sen. Hiram Monserrate (top right), Sen. Andrew Lanza (bottom left) and Sen. Jeffrey Klein (bottom right) are on the list of 49.

Legislative staffer Carl Gucciardi does his best to keep separate his simultaneous roles as an aide to Sen. Diane Savino - and as her campaign treasurer. It's not easy.

"Oh, geez," Gucciardi said when the Daily News called him at the Democratic senator's Staten Island office to ask how he avoided mixing the two. "We shouldn't have this conversation on a state phone."

Gucciardi, who is Savino's $50,000-a-year research assistant, is one of 49 legislative staffers who also serve as treasurer of their boss' political campaigns.

One in five of New York's 212 state legislators relied on this two-for-one deal in the last two years, a New York Public Interest Research Group review of campaign and payroll records show.

It's not illegal, but it's a loophole that can create conflicts, good government advocates say.

For instance, workers who know who's writing campaign checks may treat a donor's request to meet with the legislator more favorably.

"Knowing that a request is from a constituent who is also a campaign contributor does raise some ethical issues," said Dick Dadey, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens Union.

Susan Lerner of Common Cause said the arrangement is unhealthy because pols always need campaign donors. "The truth of the matter in legislative offices is that the call slips are arranged depending on the importance of the caller," she said. "We have allowed a system to be created and continue where fund-raising is 2-4/7, 12 months out of the year. Our elected officials are on a fund-raising hamster wheel."

The News found staffers caught in an awkward dance to dodge conflicts. Some carry two cell phones: one for staff, one for campaign. Others step out of state offices to discuss campaign business.

Take Jason Koppel. As the $134,992-a-year chief of staff to Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn), he helps control access to the senator. As his campaign treasurer, he also collects donations.

He sees no problem wearing both hats, insisting he doesn't wear both at the same time. He says he always switches to a cell phone and private e-mail when talking about campaign matters.

"The work is done not in a legislative office but ... off premises," he said. "Anybody who comes here [with a check] is given a campaign phone number."

With former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno's conviction last week highlighting Albany's many conflicts of interest, many aides declined to even discuss their dual roles on office phones.

"Can I give you a call back from a different phone?" said Robin Mueller, a $48,984-a-year legislative aide to Sen. John Flanagan (R-L.I.) who also volunteers as his campaign treasurer. She didn't call back, but Flanagan did.

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